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What does having a salivary gland tumor foretell? Surgery, for starters

July 20, 2009 |  1:43 pm

Yauch After that, treatment can vary, at least for the major salivary glands. And that's what we're focusing on today because that's what Adam "MCA" Yauch of the Beastie Boys says he has -- cancer of the left parotid gland.

He says it was caught early, is treatable and that, yes, surgery and additional treatment are in his future, Our Pop & Hiss blog reports. But details beyond that are few. (Yauch also made a video announcement on the band's website.) 

The blog post, quoting an EMI statement, says:

Luckily it was caught early and is localized in one area, and as such is considered very treatable. It will however require surgery and several weeks of additional treatment. Fortunately the cancer is not in a location that will affect Yauch's vocal chords. Beastie Boys have canceled all upcoming concert appearances to allow time for Yauch's surgery and recovery.

UPI and other outlets report that the cancer was also found in a lymph node. (More on this below.)

Now for some facts on salivary gland cancer:

* For starters, it's rare, accounting for less than 1% of cancers in the United States.

* It's most often found in people 55 and older (which is true for most cancers). Yauch is 44.

* Risk factors include smoking, prior radiation treatment and, occasionally, a family history. There are other, less proven connections, such as a poor diet and environmental exposures, but the data there are a bit thin.

Here's an overview of salivary gland cancer, courtesy of the American Cancer Society.

The explanatory portion begins with this context:

Salivary gland cancer is a cancer that starts in one of the salivary glands. It is not a single disease. There are actually several different salivary glands found inside and near your mouth. Several types of cancer and benign (non-cancerous) tumors can develop in these glands.

This explainer includes a fascinating explation of both the major and the minor salivary glands. There are three pairs of the former; several hundred of the latter.

About the parotid gland, in particular, the site says:

The parotid glands, the largest salivary glands, are found on each side of the face, just in front of the ears. About 7 out of 10 salivary gland tumors start here. Most of these tumors are benign (non-cancerous), but the parotid gland is still where most malignant (cancerous) salivary gland tumors start.

Treatment includes surgery, radiation and (less common) chemotherapy. For people with the earliest form of cancer, the five-year survival rate is 96%. That declines to 37% for people with the most severe form -- Stage 4.

Now about that lymph node. Presence of the cancer in a nearby lymph node would suggest the cancer has advanced to at least Stage 3. Here's more, including the stages of salivary gland cancer, from the Cleveland Clinic. (A similar article from the National Cancer Institute includes a glossary and tumor-size comparisons.)

Tumor size, the presence of cancer in a lymph node, the rate of growth (no word on that) -- all affect treatment decisions. Here's a closer look at treatment from the National Cancer Institute:

But now that the disease is in the public eye, perhaps what most people want to know about, other than more details from Yauch, are symptoms. Here they are, says the American Cancer Society:

* a mass or lump in your face, neck, or mouth

* pain in one place in your face, neck, or mouth that doesn't go away

* a difference in the size or shape of the left and right sides of your face or neck that wasn't there before

* numbness in part of your face

* new muscle weakness on one side of your face

* trouble swallowing

It may go without saying, but the organization felt compelled to do so and I'll add it as well: Finding the cancer early greatly increases the chances of a cure. If you have any of the symptoms, see a doctor right away.

-- Tami Dennis

Photo: Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys performs at Baltimore's Pimlico Race Course in 2007. Credit: Evan Agostini / Getty Images for Virgin Mobile USA